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Archive for Sunday, June 27, 2004

No-call law blamed for Wichita closing

MCI call center in Air Capital had employed 630 workers

June 27, 2004

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— The closing of telecommunications giant MCI's Wichita call center is being attributed to federal no-call legislation, which forbids unsolicited calls to the 60 million Americans who have asked to be placed on the registry.

Once a prominent example of the benefits of call centers to the Wichita economy, MCI's call center is just the latest of several to close or cut back in Wichita. Nearly 1,500 call center jobs, including the 630 at MCI, have been eliminated in Wichita in the past three years.

The shutting of the MCI call center comes as Wichita is still trying to recover from more than 12,000 layoffs in the aircraft industry since 2001. Wichita's unemployment rate fell to 5.4 percent last month -- down from 6.5 percent in May 2003 -- and officials say they see signs of improvement in the local economy.

MCI's Wichita employees were told Friday morning the call center was closing, and they were sent home for the day.

The company gave them 60-day notice as required by federal law. Their jobs will end Aug. 24, according to the company.

MCI will pay severance to full-time employees equivalent to six weeks to six months of pay. Slightly more than half of MCI's employees in Wichita are full time. The company also will provide job-hunting services.

Virginia-based MCI announced 2,000 layoffs in all on Friday in its third round of job cuts this year. The company also announced the closing of its Colorado Springs call center Friday.

The federal no-call list bans companies from calling 60 million numbers. The Wichita call center was an outbound sales call center, the type most affected by the no-call rules.

"It's not pretty," said Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst. "And it's painful for all the employees. They figured that if they came through the last three years it would get better. But it hasn't; it's still struggling."

The call center industry has been a fickle sector for Wichita's workers. Call centers open and shut down, hire and lay off. Since 2001, at least two major call centers have closed and two smaller ones have opened in Wichita.

Call centers in the United States have been struggling generally in the past few years. Many companies have shipped their call centers overseas or eliminated them in favor of Internet contact.

Today, an estimated 4,000 full- and part-time employees work in more than a dozen Wichita-area call centers. Most Wichita call centers take inbound calls or make calls to existing customers, so they aren't subject to the no-call restrictions.

Some analysts such as Mitchell Lieber, of Lieber and Associates of Chicago, believe that call centers are again starting to grow with the resurgence in the U.S. economy and will continue to have a place in American business, although they will have to adapt to advances in the Internet.

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